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Authored by Chan Komagan

Yugoslavia always fascinated me as a child. I remember watching the contestants from this communist block play competitively in the Olympic games, and usually come out in the top 5. It was home to many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds (and still is). The very definition of a melting pot. Though they shared the same south Slavic language.

In the early 90’s I witnessed the breakaway of this huge communist block after Tito’s fall. For those not familiar with Tito, he was the first post world war communist leader of Yugoslavia. Some saw him as a tyrant, though others found the phrase “benevolent dictator” to be more fitting.

Visiting Yugoslavia was always on my bucket list, and that was something which not even a collapse of the country would change.  In spring of 2015, I decided to visit the former Yugoslavian countries to get a first hand experience of their history, culture and religion. What connected them together also separated them apart. Can you still travel to Yugoslavia?

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A Little History

The history of Yugoslavia is fascinating. It is the most ethnically and religiously diverse region the world has known to date, making for a complex political landscape which is often difficult to wrap your head around when trying to understand. History of Yugoslavia. What happened to Yugoslavia?

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the early 4th century, the eastern half of the empire broke along two major groups – Catholic to the west and the Orthodox religion to the east. A few centuries later Ottoman invaded and dominated the region for five centuries leaving their Islamic culture and influence in the region. This once again split the region into Christian (north) and Muslim (South). Why did Yugoslavia break up?

Over the next few centuries many distinct ethnic identities emerged. The Yugoslavia meaning “land of the south slavs” began to take root with major ethnicities – Croat, Slovene, Serb and Bosniak. These slavs essentially descended from the same ancestors and spoke somewhat related languages. The only major difference was their religious beliefs.

When Tito came to power after the Second World War he envisioned the unification of the south Slavic countries into one major block that could dominate Central Europe. He hoped to achieve balance of power among the seven different republics – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia. What happened in Yugoslavia?

His vision was pretty solid in that it gave equitable power among all ethnic groups and never allowed one group to dominate the other. Tito was a communist though he refused to ally with Russia. He saw that the East and the West were playing against each other and knew that no good would come from aligning with one side over the other. Why did the Yugoslavian war start?

The arms industry in Yugoslavia flourished under Tito. In fact they were the number one arms export market. Several companies manufactured combat aircrafts and tanks. I happened to visit the hidden aircraft-manufacturing center in Mostar. Why did the Yugoslavian war start?

To understand the region through different stages in the breakup you can refer to the image below. What happened in the Yugoslavian war?

1280px-Breakup_of_Yugoslavia-TRY2

Signs of sectarian and religious tensions began to emerge in the 1970s, though thanks to the ironclad rule of Tito those tensions never materialized into a revolution or breakdown. Most of these issues were swept under the rug at a local level but only to explode after Tito’s death. Who was Tito?

The impression I received from speaking with those from various backgrounds in the former Yugoslavian states is somewhat of a mixed bag. Some are nostalgic of the old times and some felt this was a union that was never meant to be. It was an incredibly messy breakup which made the world news for ethnic cleansing and unnecessary human loses. What did Tito do?

But today albeit some tensions which do still exist, these diverse ethnic and religious groups co-exist with each other. This is evidenced perhaps the most in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Within a ten-minute walk from main square of the city you will find an Orthodox church, Mosque, Catholic Church and a Jewish synagogue. What role did Tito play in the Yugoslavian war?

Meeting the locals and survivors of the breakdown and listening to their stories is an intense experience. Though when you do meet people from these different ethnic and religious backgrounds in these countries it is important to not to take anyone’s side, but rather to listen and take in their perspective without judging them or their ancestral background.

Planning a Visit to the Former Yugoslavia

The countries which make up the former Yugoslavia are Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.

My travel path took a loop around the Yugoslavia block (as noted in the picture below). I skipped Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo due to volatile security situation during the time I was in Montenegro.

I started off in the north in Slovenia then made my way south to Croatia and Montenegro traveled along the beautiful Adriatic coast making stops in coastal Baltic cities along the way. After Montenegro I headed up north to Bosnia and west to Serbia. Can you travel through Yugoslavia?

Visit Former Yugoslavian Countries

My travel path around the former Yugoslavian countries. Black lines indicate the path.

Suggested Itinerary

The best time to visit this region is from April to June and September to October. Countries here are absolutely packed come summer, so avoid the tourists by traveling during shoulder season.

As far as visas are concerned, U.S citizens can get visa on arrival and stay up to 60 days in most countries. The following are travel highlights in each country and recommendations for how to get around.

Slovenia

Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital city – travel here for history, culture, arts and shopping. Click for more information on my visit to Slovenia. Most low cost airlines fly to Ljubljana. Frequent trains operate between Zagreb and Ljubljana. You can also connect from Vienna and Munich.

Lake Bled is one of the most stunning natural wonders of the world. Travel here for nature, hiking, biking and outdoor activities. A must do activity is to hike the Triglau mountains, open in the summer months. Also consider a boat ride across Lake Bohinj. The train or bus from Ljubljana is a great way to get to Lake Bled. Otherwise the journey is 2-3 hours by car.

Croatia

Visit Zagreb (Croatia’s capital city) for history, fabulous food and museums (Museum of broken relationship is a must see). Trains from Ljubjana to Zagreb are the easiest way to get there. Buy the tickets at the train station.

Plitvice National Park is home to easily the most stunning waterfalls in the world. Take the early morning bus from Zagreb to Plitvice and spend the day. A day is all you need. Things to do in Croatia.

Zadar is a historic Roman city which offers spectacular Roman ruins and beautiful sandy beaches. Don’t miss The Forum, Sea Organ and The Greeting to the Sun. Try the Black cuttlefish risotto in any restaurant in the old town. The bus from Plitvice to Zadar takes about 2 hours. Things to do in Zadar.

Pro Tip: I strongly recommend to take all the bus trips during the day so you can enjoy the beautiful coastline and Mediterranean towns along the coast.

Split is a historic walled Roman city. Be sure to take in the Roman ruins, clock tower and beaches. Itinerary for Croatia. Things to do in Split.

Hvar boasts a fortress, cathedral, beaches, and great seafood. Recommend to stay overnight here as the night life is pretty good. The ferry from Split to Hvar takes about 2 hours. I recommend taking the ferry in the early morning to avoid the crowd. Public transport in Croatia. Things to do in Hvar. 

Dubrovnik is a fascinating fortified city – a historic old town with massive stone walls. Take the cable car to the top of the fortress, and head over to Café Buza where you can drink and jump from the edge of the fortress into the sparkling water of the Adriatic sea. The bus from Split to Dubrovnik takes 4 hours.

Montenegro

Kotor is a beautiful coastal town in the secluded part of Montenegro known for its scenic views. Bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor takes 2 hours. The coastal drive is one of the most beautiful drives you will ever take.

Budvar is less than half hour from Kotor, famous for its beaches, shopping and seafood. Frequent local buses from Kotor to Budvar.

Perast is another old town on the bay of Kotor in Montenegro. Best known for Our Lady of the Rocks – an islet off the coast of Perast. Frequent local buses from Kotor to Perast. Things to do in Montenegro.

Bosnia

Mostar is the cultural capital of Bosnia. Must see is the Historical Old bridge and remnants of the Bosnian war. The Neretva river that flows across Mostar is one of the cleanest rivers in the world. Things to do in Bosnia.

There is a bus from Kotor to Mostar but it goes through Dubrovnik which adds more time to your travel. If you want to go direct without going back to Croatia, you can consider hiring a private car or a shared van service.

Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia, known for its diversity in culture and religions. The city where you will find evidence of Islam, Orthodoxy, Judaism and Catholicism co-existing for centuries. It was the here World War 1 began. The scenic train ride from Mostar to Sarajevo takes almost 3 hours.

Serbia

Belgrade is the capital city of Serbia with a lot of history and culture on display. Hike up to Kalemegdan fortress, spend the nightlife at the world famous splavs – floating clubs, Ethnographic museum. Evidence also remains from the bombings of NATO’s attack on Serbia in the late 90’s.

Recommend taking a bus over train. If you stay in a hostel you can find a shared van service organized by the hostel.

Novi Sad is a beautiful historic town. Petrovardin fortress is a must see for it’s beautiful views and creative workshops. Regular daily train services leave from Belgrade to Novi Sad. Things to do in Serbia and Novi Sad. 

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Chan is an avid traveler and a tech enthusiast who has traveled to 5 continents and 40 countries in his lifetime. He quit his job last December to pursue his dream of traveling to the far corners of the world.

Based in New York, while traveling he does stock trading and blogging at Komagan.com. You can connect with Chan on Facebook and Twitter. You can read more of his guest posts on this blog on his author page.

Photo credits: Featured photo by Roberto Taddeo. Pinterest Images by Les Haines & Clark & Kim Kays. St Marks Church by Stephen Bugno. Mosque Macedonia by Nurettin Mert AYDIN. Breakup of Yugoslavia GIF Original by Hoshie; derivative by DIREKTORMade by DIREKTOR. Orthadox church Sarajevo by serzhile. Sarajevo roofs by Bob van Hesse. Ljubljana by Gilad Rom. Lake Bled by Ramón. Dubrovnik & the Adriatic Sea by Ivan Ivankovic. Mostar mosque by Bartlomiej Mostek. Mostar Bridge by Kevin Botto.

    36 Comments

  1. This is the region that I really want to visit! Too bad I need a visa for each country of this region. 🙁

    • Hope you can get there soon Allan – from Matthew on Facebook it sounds like a valid multiple entry Schengen visa can be used as a substitute visa for all former Yugoslav countries. Certain constraints, like a limit on number of days, apply.

    • If you’re an American or EU citizen, you don’t need a visa.

    • Thanks Tom! I think Allan is from the Philippines 🙂

  2. Wow, an interesting itinerary you have here. I have been eyeing croatia for awhile now. Hmmm, most likely next year 🙂 Thank you for the tip on the bus rides, I usually pick the night buses to save time and accommodation but yeah, seeing the coast and the environment during the day is also worth it.

    • Definitely Karla. These bus rides are very short between the cities/towns. Plus you can meet other travelers and engage in conversations during the day time better than in the night time.

      Happy travels!

    • My wife & I visited Split in September, 2015. We took the ferry to Dubrovnik which takes 4 hours. We took the bus from Dubrovnik back to Split which also takes 4 hours. The scenery was beautiful. There’s no direct air service between Split & Dubrovnik.

      Croatians are very friendly , hard working & intelligent people. Most places accept the Croatian Kuna in addition to the Euro. The Kuna is cheaper.

      Croatia food, wine, cheese, bread & smoked meats are as good or better than Italian food. Their thick sliced prosciutto is far superior to Italian

      Croatia is a beautiful country with beautiful people.

      We’re American fans of Croatia.

    • So glad to hear you enjoyed your time in Croatia Tom! Which did you prefer re the Ferry v the Bus? I’ve done the bus trip, though haven’t taken the ferry before. I bet the Ferry though would essentially be a scenic cruise in its own right.

      Totally agree with you too that the food in Croatia is on par with neighboring Italy … shhh don’t tell the Italians though lol 😀

      Maybe we’ll bump into you one day in Croatia – very in love with the country too 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Just visited this region for 2 months, but I still missed several must-see places mentioned, like Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina! Slovenia was by far one of my most favorite countries. I cannot wait to get back! Dubrovnik, though beautiful, was way too crowded for our taste, so we’d recommend visiting in the off-season, if you can. All in all, these are great recommendations, and I can definitely second a suggestion to visit this wonderful region of Europe!

    • Yes, Dubrovnik is very touristy. It was easily the most visited destination in Croatia and probably the favorite place for many cruise ships from neighboring countries. Although the view from the top of the castle is breathless. I wouldn’t spend more than one night there.

      Slovenia is really beautiful. I want to go back there and go trekking in the Triglau mountain. Perhaps next Spring season.

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. You pack a lot of great information into just a small post – nicely done. Really fascinating and I’d love to follow your suggestions to the letter. And I agree, when you travel somewhere, it’s best to listen and not take sides. Then you get more of the full pictures. Great post and wonderful graphics.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Jen! I’m also excited to get to Europe and follow Chan’s itinerary – I’ve visited many of these destinations, but not all, and it was before I had an appreciation for the history of the area. So can’t wait to get back!

  5. One of my favorite regions! Love your itineraries – now I feel like I need to go back and see more. And next time you should visit the rest of the countries too – Kosovo was (surprisingly) my favorite place to visit, with Albania a close second!

    • Thanks for the tip re Kosovo Silvia – will make sure I add it to my itinerary when we manage a trip back through Europe. I haven’t yet made it to Albania either so that’ll also go on the list 🙂

      Happy travels – hope you manage a return visit soon!

  6. Great post and a good itinerary. You have more or less covered all the historically-important places. I would also add Nis in Serbia with its concentration camp. It’s not a particularly beautiful town, but something for history buffs. And don’t forget about Kosovo (which is NOT on the map!! why?), Europe’s newest country with its fascinating history!

    • Thanks for the tip on Nis in Serbia – I haven’t yet managed a visit to a concentration camp through my travels in Europe yet, and while I imagine it would be incredibly sobering, I do want to seek out that experience at some point. I believe it’s really important to recognize and learn from the mistakes of our past and that history should be acknowledged. So will definitely add that to my list of stops for this region.

      And will be sure to make a stop by Kosovo too!

  7. I’m so into learning the history of places and I loved the beginning of your article. you’ve put together a great itinerary, showing there’s more than Slovenia and Croatia to see. I was glad to hear that it’s relatively easy to get around by bus. Very useful!

    • Glad you enjoyed Chans article Jackie – I also loved this from a historical standpoint, and I learnt so much in publishing the post!

      It’s definitely the history of a destination which makes you appreciate the travel more and really shapes the experience as a whole. There’s definitely more than Slovenia and Croatia to see in this part of the world – hope you manage a trip there soon!

  8. Ahh all the countries here are all places I’ve been dying to visit. Croatia has been high up on my list and can’t wait to make solid plans to visit. Met a guy from Slovenia on a bus recently and he has raved about what to see, do, and visit! Appreciate the historical background too!

    • Glad to hear that Anna! It’s an amazing corner of the world 🙂 Enjoy your travels.

  9. Super inspiring and insightful, as always. I visited Dubrovnik a few years ago and it has been one of my favorite destinations, so I am guessing I would love the rest of former Yugoslavia just as much! I’m actually heading that way next month, so this is getting bookmarked!

    • Glad you enjoyed Chans post Amelie! I loved Dubrovnik also – had an amazing time finding little hole in the wall bars where you could enjoy a drink and then jump from your chair off the cliff into the Adriatic if it got too warm 😀 Amazing memories from that trip!!

      If you enjoyed your time in Croatia you’ll love the rest of the former Yugoslavia – enjoy your travels – feel free to reach out if you have any Q’s in the lead up to your trip 🙂

  10. Will be saving this one! We want to start out travelling Europe in this region so this is a great resource for next year. Over the past year we’ve talked to many people of the region, usually of our generation, and have heard many sides of the story. We love hearing what they have to say and putting it together for a bigger picture. You’re absolutely right – just listen, don’t judge. Having grown up with stories from the older generations, and now the younger ones, it’ll be interesting to see what it’s really like once we get there!

    • So glad to hear you’ll be traveling through this region next year – it’s an absolutely fascinating part of the world, and you’ll really enjoy your time.

      It sounds like you’re already all over the history and have the right attitude for taking on an understanding of the past here. Let us know how your trip goes!

  11. It is a region that I have yet to visit but one that fascinates me and this will be a great guide to refer to when I do. Thanks for always sharing great posts Megan!

    • You out of all people would absolutely love this region Mar – it really does have such a fascinating history – I hope you can get there soon 🙂

  12. I was in Novi Sad recently to give a presentation about travel blogging at their university and even though I saw just a little of it, I totally loved it. My dear friend lives there and she was so kind to host me and show me around. Out of the other places, I’d love to visit Bosnia and I’ve been to Kotor… but that has been ages (at least 12 years) so I’m a bit hesitant to go back because of the tourism changes. When I was there, nobody spoke English and there were no tourists at all … Plitvice is high up on my wishlist but I heard it’s super busy which keeps me from going right now. All in all it looks like an awesome itinerary and I’m sure it will be useful for many who are planning on spending a bit more time in this part of Europe!

    • I as in Bosnia in 2007 and I’m also interested to see how tourism has affected the region, if at all. I was on the first contiki tour which went through that area of Eastern Europe, so had a similar experience in that there weren’t really other tourists past our group, and not too many people spoke English. Definitely interesting to see how tourism has changed the face of a destination over the course of 10 years.

      Glad you enjoyed your time in Novi Sad – I do hope you manage a trip back to the region to explore more, and that it lives up to your memory and expectations. It’s a spectacular area, though I do see tourism starting to pick up more and more in the future. Thinking if I want to go back I’ll have to try and get in before the rest of the world heads there too!

      Happy travels!

  13. I am Croatian, and was actually born in Yugoslavia. It’s nice to hear that people finally started to have an interest in this region. It’s without a doubt a region with rich culture, beautiful nature and very nice people, and on the top of all, pretty cheap comparing to the rest of Europe.

    • Absolutely Anca – I loved spending time in this area of Europe, and it was so undiscovered compared to the West. I hope that it doesn’t get too influxed by mass tourism that it loses it’s nature , culture and charm – will be interested to watch how each region develops as tourism takes control.

  14. Gorgeous photos of the civilizations and surrounding environments. Visiting places with such rich diversity in a melting pot of cultures is always fascinating. Thanks for the tips.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Mary – I hope you manage a trip to this region sometime soon 🙂

  15. Interesting post. We’ve become big fans of the Balkans, you can still have some unique experiences at a decent cost, unlike many parts of Western Europe. We spent 3 months earlier this year based in Split (Croatia) and explored all of Croatia and parts of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and Slovenia. Highlights were Split and Kotor, just beautiful. We’ve been skirting the Balkans the last few months (Hongary and in Romania right now) but are planning to be back next spring and summer – and to be spending peak summer season in Albania which sees few tourists.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Glad you’ve fallen in love with the region too Frank – Eastern Europe is highly underrated in my opinion, though that’s probably a good thing because it keeps all of the mass tourism in the West and leaves the East for those who really want to experience it and immerse themselves fully in it’s culture.

      Glad you enjoyed Split – can’t wait to follow your adventures next summer – I haven’t yet been to Albania so will be really fascinating to read about your experiences.

      Happy travels X

  16. Wonderful itinerary! Would love to know how long this trip took? How many days/weeks should we allow do this? Visiting our daughter in Scotland and plan to head east with her. We’ve done most of Europe proper; ready for new adventures!

    • Hi Susan – I spent almost a month covering 5 counties in the former block of Yugoslavia. This included 5 countries -Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia. I spent the most amount of time in Croatia traveling from north to south stopping by many places along the coast. If you have a month then you can travel at your own pace but if you are short on time then you can skip some of the places in Croatia. Hope that helps.

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